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I am not able to find an appropriate word to fill in for "scared".

He was so scared, he couldn't move. He turned to stone.

He was too shocked. He almost turned to stone and could not move.

What would be a single word that has more intensity than scared or shocked. A word that can convey the figurative meaning of "he turned to stone".


[The following edits are the text of a well-formed and well-considered question (A word or expression for being paralyzed by fear or scare, like German Schockstarre) posed by Christian Geiselmann 2017-8-2, later closed as a duplicate of this question. This question had previously been closed due to lack of research. The answers to Geiselmann's question have been merged with the answers to this question.]

I am searching for a nice, possibly picturesque and idiomatic way of expressing in English what Germans call Schockstarre - being paralyzed by fear.

in Schockstarre verfallen

The word is used, first, to discribe the state some animals fall into when under threat, for example a beetle may have such a condition - not moving, apparently dead, so that a predator would hopefully turn away disinterested. Second, the word is used to picturesquely desribe a similar state in humans; usually ironically.

I tried to find adequate expressions in English but what I found so far seems too normal, not pointed enough to me:

to be paralyzed from shock

to be in a state of shock

These expressions seem to be mere descriptions of an actual state of shock, and I feel they lack the expressive power of German in Schockstarre verfallen (which evoces the picture of a motionless beetle or other funny animal).

Any ideas?

If you need a context: imagine, for example, a newspaper article describing a dangerous international situation, and the White House is unable to do anything meaningful due to inner confusion (I make this up, nothing real is intended here). Or take German car makers who seem to be paralyzed by daily new revelations of their fraudful schemes. Anyway, people who should actually do something, but do conspicuously nothing, and you describe this with irony.

  • 1
    So "frozen" would be wrong? – TheBlastOne Mar 3 '15 at 22:16
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    He couldn't shift his position; he was scared shiftless. – James McLeod Mar 3 '15 at 22:18
  • @TheBlastOne: I actually do favor "frozen with fear" as an alternate expression for the OP's case. – Jimi Oke Mar 4 '15 at 1:31
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    Stockstill in English is almost the same, though it doesn't carry necessary overtones of terror. – John Lawler Aug 2 '17 at 18:24
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    I'm sorry but this question has been asked at least twice before. here's another older question with identical or very similar answers: “paralyzed because of strong emotion” Is there an idiom or fixed-phrase which conveys this meaning? I can't cast my vote to close it a second time, but someone else can... – Mari-Lou A Aug 2 '17 at 22:09

16 Answers 16

156

Petrified is an excellent fit....

2: to make rigid or inert like stone
a : to make lifeless or inactive : deaden
b : to confound with fear, amazement, or awe
from m-w.com

  • 5
    Also the first word to come to mind. 'Turned to stone.' – Sean Allred Mar 3 '15 at 21:09
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    Petrified comes from the greek petra that means stone. While it usually means scared, it does not have to be related to fear. – user112551 Mar 4 '15 at 13:52
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    From the musical "Camelot": "A warrior who's so calm in battle Even his armor doesn't rattle Faces a woman petrified with fright? Right!" – WhatRoughBeast Mar 5 '15 at 0:40
  • Another phrase is quite simply/straightforwardly "paralyzed with fear", which is exactly what's happening (credit to Zibbobz for providing this as an answer further below, about two days ago, lol) – Doktor J Mar 6 '15 at 15:05
  • @Chris Yes and no. Petrified is used literally to mean "turned to stone" (as in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona) or figuratively to mean "unable to move because of fear". In cases where it's not being used to refer to the fossilization of organic matter, it always relates to fear. (Unless you have any examples of usage to the contrary?) – David Richerby Mar 7 '15 at 12:23
50

Well, literally: petrified, verb: to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion.

33

He was stunned.

  • to overcome especially with paralyzing astonishment or disbelief (MW)
  • filled with the emotional impact of overwhelming surprise or shock (vocabulary.com)
28

"Paralyzed with fear" is a fairly common phrase for when somoene is so scared that they cannot move or take action. So you could definitely say he was "paralyzed".

Additionally, paralysis can also refer to shock, which is definitely also associated with fear.

Paralyze

  1. to affect with paralysis.

  2. to bring to a condition of helpless stoppage, inactivity, or inability to act: "The strike paralyzed communications."

Synonyms

  1. See shock.
19

Petrified:

extremely frightened:

  • I stood petrified as the most enormous dog I've ever seen came bounding up to me. She's petrified of being on her own in the house at night.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • 4
    Or, to quote the great Gloria Gaynor, At first I was afraid, I was petrified – 1006a Aug 2 '17 at 18:33
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    +1 for nailing the "picturesque" request, especially if you are a paleontologist or watch Harry Potter! – vpn Aug 2 '17 at 18:37
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    Yes, I think petrified is what I was looking for. Strange that it did not come to my mind. Should be in my active vocabulary. Obviously I was too much fixated on the dictionaries... – Christian Geiselmann Aug 2 '17 at 18:44
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    I can't help but to say Petrificus Totalus! Same effect on folks of the wizarding world. – GibralterTop Aug 2 '17 at 20:25
  • Since "petrified" means "versteinert" etymologically, it can really be seen as good translation for "vor Schock erstarrt". – rexkogitans Aug 2 '17 at 20:47
14

Another possible word is catatonic.

From reference.com:

  1. having catatonia, a syndrome characterized by muscular rigidity and mental stupor: "The schizophrenic remained in a catatonic state".

  2. appearing to be in a daze or stupor; unresponsive: "She had the catatonic expression of an avant-garde model".

I actually remember the first time I saw this word, reading Larry Niven's Ringworld as a youngster. The character "Nessus" would enter a catatonic state whenever he sensed danger.

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    "Catatonic" does not specifically have to do with fear though, and is more contextual. Even in both definitions from reference.com, the examples seem to have nothing to do with fear. A contextually appropriate example might be "When he stepped out on the stage he was overwhelmed by the bright lights and thousands of eyes in the audience watching his every move, and simply went catatonic" (i.e. stage fright) – Doktor J Mar 6 '15 at 15:08
13

One option not mentioned yet is:

Immobilise:

  • to make (something or someone) immobile:

    • he was immobilised by fear when he saw the killer.
11

Deer in the headlights, from The Free Dictionary (Broken into short paragraphs to avoid indigestible glop of text):

Someone caught in a state of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment. Likened to the tendency of deer to freeze in place in front of an oncoming vehicle. Often used in the phrase "like a deer in the headlights."

Mary turned into a deer in the headlights when she forgot her lines in the middle of the play.

He froze like a deer in the headlights when I caught him taking money out of the register.

When she asked me to marry her, I could only stand there like a deer in the headlights.

Spotlighting, which causes a "deer in the headlights" paralysis reaction is an illegal practice in deer-hunting.

Spotlighting — hunting with artificial light used to intentionally capture the animal’s attention — is among the most serious hunting violations authorities will investigate this deer season. Typical methods include vehicle headlights and handheld spotlights

PS: This answered the Q by Christian Geiselmann, which explicitly allowed an expression as an answer.

  • Here is the funny animal. Nice. – Christian Geiselmann Aug 2 '17 at 19:01
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    I especially like this one when there is a danger that the paralyzed person/institution will be mown down by the danger that has them frozen if they don't move. – 1006a Aug 2 '17 at 20:23
10

If your audience is rabbits, or readers of Watership Down at least, consider tharn: "(adj) to be petrified with fear"

10

Without relying on the use of metaphor, one word is transfix or transfixed.

v. to cause (someone) to become motionless with horror, wonder, or astonishment.

From oxforddictionaries.com

  • I believe that's still metaphorical, albeit a dead metaphor, as the literal meaning of "transfix" is to pierce through, thereby holding something in place. – user9383 Mar 5 '15 at 20:34
7

For this purpose, I like to use the verb freeze: stop suddenly and become completely still, especially because of fear [Cambridge].

5

Scared stiff is a reasonably idiomatic, and almost direct, translation.

informal
very afraid —often + of     She was scared stiff of flying.
from m-w.com

4

In addition to the excellent answers already offered including, "petrified" and "frozen", I'd like to offer the following:

Immobilized: "The White House has been immobilized by the barrage of scandals."

Or

Incapacitated: "Volkswagen has been incapacitated by the recent conviction of its CEO."

  • Downvoted - why? – Christian Geiselmann Aug 2 '17 at 19:01
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    @ChristianGeiselmann it was probably a former Volkswagen employee that objected to my second example. Or maybe it was Mr. Trump himself that objected to my first example. However, let me point out that neither was "my" example, I was just using the examples provided by the OP. – Devil07 Aug 2 '17 at 19:37
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Transfixed:

Cause (someone) to become motionless with horror, wonder, or astonishment.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

  • please share a definition and source of your word – depperm Aug 2 '17 at 19:44
2

Cowed cause (someone) to submit to one's wishes by intimidation. "the intellectuals had been cowed into silence"

Cowering crouch down in fear. "children cowered in terror as the shoot-out erupted"

Terrify cause to feel extreme fear. "the thought terrifies me"

1

"fossilized by fear"

"hung on fear"

"bound with fear"

"boiled in fear"

  • boiled in fear... oh my! – Daft Mar 6 '15 at 14:28

protected by Community Mar 7 '15 at 14:26

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